By Hideki Mochizuki
TOKYO, November 2. AFTER a long difficult year, Tomoko Hagiwara — perhaps Japan's leading medal contender for Athens — is making a comeback.
It was quite shocking news for Japanese swimming fans and officials when Hagiwara collapsed three times and was hospitalized during the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships in Yokohama. It was on August 29, 2002 when Hagiwara suddenly collapsed right before the women’s 200m backstroke final, in which she was the top qualifier, and was delivered to the hospital.
She was diagnosed as having inhaled excessively, which sometimes happens to a swimmer trying to control huge amounts of pressure. But two days earlier, on August 27, she had had the same symptoms and had collapsed.
Since then, Hagiwara disappeared from major meets, skipping even the World Championships in Barcelona, as she made her health her top priority. But now, it seems, she is ready to make a comeback for Athens.
As evidence of her resurgence, she won both the 100m freestyle and 200 IM in respective times of 55.27 and 2:14.16 at the National Sports Festival (long course) in mid-September. On October 26, she followed up with a Japanese short course record of 1:01.02 for the 100m (short course) IM.
On her home page she says; "I really focused on taking a rest this year. So it was a nice surprise for me that the times I recorded at the National Sports Festival were quite good. Next year is a once-in-four-years challenge. Yes, I am ready for it."
Hagiwara owns three individual Japanese long course records:
100m Freestyle: 54.97
200m Backstroke: 2.10.05
200m IM: 2.12.84